Agencies Make Their Presence Known
The AIDS Health Care Foundation sponsored a forum on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program in Florida last Wednesday, and the turnout was very strong, with activists asserting their concern about the diminishing availability of meds in the federal drug treatment program.
“350 People will be removed from the program on February 1st,” said Joey Wynn, a well known AIDS advocate. “That’s the earliest it could happen so if you’ve heard that it would happen this week, that’s not true.”
Wynn was speaking to about 75 people who came to Wilton Manors for the HIV/ADAP town hall discussion. Participants were mostly from the Wilton Manors area, but a few travelled from Miami and other cities to gather information.
Wynn has been doing work and advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS for more than a decade but tonight he’s just trying to motivate people to be proactive in the face of frightening cutbacks to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program in South Florida. “So I just want everybody to know there are programs here to help […] and there are people out there who are fighting for this cause. It’s not hopeless.”
There was no panic, chaos or yelling at this meeting as there had been at other public discussions earlier in the year. Still, attendees listened attentively and asked plenty of questions. Although Wynn had said at the beginning that he didn’t want to get too partisan or political, it became apparent after the first question was raised that it would be an unavoidable outcome.
When a participant from Red Hispana (another HIV-related advocacy group) asked about contacting legislators, multiple participants answered that they could provide this information. Methods of imploring Florida and Federal legislators to help middle and lower-income HIV positive persons seemed to be a major theme throughout questions and answers. “We just want to make sure our federal legislators go up to Washington and do what’s best for our state, not their party,” said Wynn to much applause.
Congressman Alcee Hastings sent a representative to the town hall meeting to take notes and make sure that participants knew that he was aware of the issue of funding and working on it. If any other government officials were present, they did not make themselves known.
Some participants were agitated at suggestions that things would be ok in the long run. One young man told the audience that he was cut off of ADAP while he was hospitalized and struggled to get back on the program, only to be removed again one week later.
Other ADAP recipients shared that they were taken on and off of computerized records, and had trouble collecting their medication, although most are still unclear whether or not they had been removed from the actual program.
Meanwhile, AHF announced it is planning a new rally at the Federal Building downtown on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Stated Ron Weston, an AHF representative, “The reason we’re going to the Federal Building is because, like Joey said, it’s the Federal Government that gets the money and gets the access that the state governments lack.”
AHF has had rallies at the Federal Building in downtown Ft. Lauderdale before, as well as some eye-catching demonstrations outside the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in California. “We are just advocating that Congress allocate more funding to our state,” said Jason King, a patient advocate with AHF, “because we have, in fact, the highest number of people on our waiting list in the country. We are disproportionately affected by this disease.”
King is correct. While Florida had not had a waiting list for 13 year, it already has more than 1700 patients waiting for needed meds. 11 other states had waiting lists earlier this year but at least two have begun to enroll patients again after a recent funding increase.
Both Democrats and Republicans have bills languishing in committees to increase emergency funding for ADAP but with slight differences. The Republicans want to see ADAP money drawn from the stimulus package. Democrats see that as a partisan move and point out that some states need to contribute to their own healthcare needs with more vigor.
Confusion and anger in the political realm have kept the people who are most concerned about ADAP funding from seeing the raw facts.
The state of Florida is also expected to contribute to their own ADAP program as ADAPs are meant to be a “partnership”. Currently Florida contributes 10% of the funds going into its ADAP. The national average for states contributing to their ADAP is 20% of the program. Some states like California contribute a far greater share to their own healthcare needs in general.
“The ability for Florida to make an increase to ADAP is limited,” said Jason King, “as you know, we’re a southern state with no state income tax and limited revenue even for things like infrastructure.”
Overall, since 2005, ADAP funding has gone up about $13.3 million dollars per year, while national AIDS funding has gone from $6.3 billion in 2005 to $7.6 billion for the 2011 fiscal year. There were small increases in the Bush years, and a little bit larger ones during Obama’s term.